Sunday, February 21, 2010

Implications of a Prefix (Gibson)

Dr. Vicki Gibson contributed the following post. Vicki is known for her work with preschool (the We Can method/program), primary grades, and differentiated instruction.
At-risk readers and writers benefit the most from explicit vocabulary instruction in every subject area (Baumann & Kame'enui, 2006). What makes a lesson explicit? Consider the implications of one prefix in particular: Originating from Latin, the prefix pre- means 'before or prior to, in advance of or coming beforehand' (Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2003). This prefix implies sequence. 

For example, consider the implied sequence in words like pretest, preview, and preteach. Many words used to communicate performance expectations for teaching and learning begin with the prefix pre-, including predetermine and prerequisite. These words suggest that something comes BEFORE something else. For effective learning, that something is meaningful word study that enhances the acquisition of reading skills (Graves, M. 2009). 

Consider the words preschool and prekindergarten. These prefixed words suggest that prerequisite skills should be taught and practiced before young children face academically challenging instruction in elementary school. An orderly and coherent curriculum helps to ensure successful teaching and learning from preschool to high school.

The prefix pre- is integral to explicit instruction. Words beginning with this prefix are used frequently when discussing principles of effective instruction and assessment. Analyze the implications of the prefix pre- in the following statements:
  • pretest to determine student strengths and needs 
  • preview to ensure materials or activity choices are age/grade appropriate 
  • predetermine skills students need prior to learning new information 
  • prepare lessons and gather materials in advance
  • preteach vocabulary and oral language  
  • precondition by linking new information to background knowledge
  • pre-read text to introduce big ideas and locate new words in text 
  • pre-practice methods of modeling to clarify expectations
  • predict student mastery by providing sequential yet reflective instruction
Preteaching vocabulary and developing oral language skills are essential aspects of explicit instruction in all subject areas. Providing pre-skill instruction that begins with words and concepts already mastered and then builds on prior knowledge will enhance development of vocabularies, listening comprehension and oral language (Lonigan, Anthony, Phillips, Purpura, Wilson, & McQueen, 2009). Engaging students in interactive guided practice will strengthen word use in social cooperative communications. Encouraging students to express their ideas, relate personal experiences, and ask questions improves comprehension. Bottom line, preteaching vocabulary and engaging in dialogue are critical to reading success (Baumann & Kame’enui, 2006).

Opportunities for understanding and using language are natural prerequisites that should occur in classrooms before students are expected to perform. Understanding word meanings affects how students follow directions, retell a story, read, and write. The younger the learner and the more challenging the text, the more important it becomes for teaching emergent literacy skills to enhance reading acquisition (Anthony, Lonigan, Burgess, Driscoll, Philips, & Cantor, 2002). Practically speaking, early learning, for students in all grades, not just preschool, should begin with explicit training in phonological awareness and vocabulary instruction (Anthony & Lonigan, 2004; Burgess & Lonigan,1998; Graves, 2006).

Understanding the implications of the prefix pre- presumes that we understand that something beneficial, like meaningful instruction and practice, precedes something even better, learning. We know the reverse is true: Unclear instruction often predicts student failure. Prevent failure by preteaching important words. This is a proactive, affordable intervention that can be implemented in every classroom. Presenting content and teaching prerequisite skills has an order: 
  1. Preteaching vocabulary to develop listening comprehension  
  2. Interacting and following directions using receptive vocabulary 
  3. Modeling to clarify expectations for performance 
  4. Providing feedback in collaborative guided practice  
  5. Linking background knowledge to new information 
  6. Connecting language with performance expectations 
  7. Teaching, talking, telling, reading print to/with children
  8.  Monitoring progress toward mastery

Intentional, interactive vocabulary instruction must precede guided and independent practice and assessment of student achievement. This instructional sequence is essential to any discussion of prevention and the development of prerequisite skills. It all begins with planning and preparation. Enhancing students’ success involves following the implications of the prefix pre- and providing orderly, meaningful instruction at a pace students can tolerate.

  • Anthony, J. & Lonigan, C. (2004). The nature of phonological awareness: Converging evidence from four studies of preschool and early grade school children. Journal of Educational Psychology,96(1), 43-55. 
  • Anthony, J., Lonigan, Burgess, Driscoll, LK., Philips, B., & Cantor, B. (2002). Structure of preschool phonological sensitivity: Overlapping sensitivity to rhyme, words, syllables and phonemes. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology,82, 65-92.
  • Baumann, J., & Kame’enui, E. (2006). Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice. Guilford Press: New York. 
  • Burgess, S. & Lonigan, C. (1998). Bidirectional relations of psychological sensitivity and prereading abilities: Evidence from a preschool sample. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 70, 117-141. 
  • Graves, M. (2009). Teaching Individual Words: One Size Does Not Fit All. Teachers College Press, Columbia University: New York. 
  • Graves, M. (2006). The Vocabulary Book: Learning and Instruction. Teachers College Press, Columbia University: New York.
  • Lonigan, C., Anthony, J., Phillips, B., Purpura, D. Wilson, S., & McQueen, J. (2009). The nature of preschool phonological processing abilities and their relations to vocabulary, general cognitive abilities, and print knowledge. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(2), 345-358.


  1. What fun, Vicki! Amazing how education is predicated upon this little prefix. And amazing how many words begin with the letters pre! See link for nearly 2000.

    words beginning with letters pre

    But be warned! Yes, preware! Some words, like pretzel and preach, have nothing to do with the prefix-- it's always good to have student sort out the haves and the have-nots, at least as they begin to prevail at morphology!

  2. Anonymous3/06/2010

    Is the prefix pre also spelled pri (prior, primary, priority)??????


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